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Saddam claims 100 percent vote count in election
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq declared Saddam Hussein the winner Wednesday with 100 percent of the votes in a referendum in which he was the sole candidate, perpetuating his two-decade reign and prompting bursts of celebratory gunfire in Baghdad's streets.
Saddam's regime said the vote, widely dismissed outside Iraq, showed Iraq's people were standing with their leader against any U.S. attack.
"If there is aggression, the Americans will face these people who said 'yes' to Saddam Hussein," Izzat Ibrahim, vice chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council and Saddam's right-hand man, told reporters at Parliament.
Bursts of gunfire exploded in downtown Baghdad as he spoke, as Saddam supporters fired in the air and danced on street corners.
"If the U.S. administration makes a mistake and attacks Iraq, we will fight them," Ibrahim said. "If they come, we will fight them in every village, and every house. Every house will be a front, and every Iraqi will have a role in the war.
"All Iraqis are armed now, and by God's will we will triumph."
White House dismissal
The White House had dismissed the one-man race in advance.
"Obviously, it's not a very serious day, not a very serious vote and nobody places any credibility on it," press secretary Ari Fleischer said in Washington on Tuesday.
The vote was also rejected by the Iraqi opposition in exile and others outside Iraq. Many in Tuesday's referendum cast multiple ballots representing votes of entire families, stuffing fistfuls of votes into boxes.
The government offered no explanation for how it tabulated paper ballots from remote regions across the country of 22 million people overnight.
The referendum was a simple "yes" or "no" vote on keeping Saddam in power another seven years.
All 11,445,638 eligible voters cast ballots, Ibrahim said. Iraqi officials said popular outrage at American threats to Saddam's regime made the turnout and percentage even higher than the last vote, in 1995, when Saddam received a 99.96 "yes" vote.
In a news conference broadcast live on Iraqi TV, Ibrahim dismissed a question terming the 100-percent affirmation for Saddam "absurd."
"Someone who does not know the Iraqi people, he will not believe this percentage, but it is real, whether it looks that way to someone or not," Ibrahim said. "We don't have opposition in Iraq."
Parliament members were expected to go to Saddam sometime Wednesday to administer the oath of office immediately. Saddam has not appeared in public since December 2000.
The government already had declared the day a national holiday, in advance of the results.
Some men took to the streets amid gunfire, hopping up and down on street corners with linked arms or hanging out of cars plowing through the streets honking horns.
"This referendum and the 100 percent shows that all Iraqis are ready to defend their country and leader," said Khaled Yusef, one of those dancing.
Watching, retired civil servant Mahmoud Amin insisted Iraqis wanted no other leader.
"We are not surprised with the 100 percent vote for the president, because all Iraqis are steadfast to their president, who has been known to them for 30 years," Amin said.
The vote was widely advertised not only as backing for Saddam but as a rebuke to the United States, which has been pressing in the United Nations Security Council for a resolution that would allow a war to topple Saddam.
Ibrahim referred to the United States as the "forces of injustice and illusion," and called Iraq the land of "civilization and creativity."
Saddam, 65, became president in 1979 in a well-orchestrated transfer of power within his Baath Party.
Iraq has never known democracy, having transferred from a monarchy under British sway to military-backed rule from 1958 onward.
Iraq has been under U.N. Security Council sanctions since invading Kuwait in 1990. U.N. resolutions require the country to destroy all its weapons of mass destruction, but it is widely believed to retain chemical and biological weapons, and the United States has accused it of trying to develop nuclear weapons.
The United States wants a new Security Council resolution that would give U.N. weapons inspectors wide powers to uncover Iraq's arms and to trigger a war on Iraq if it resists full inspections.